August 26, 2009
An analysis of South Africa's advice columnists finds most do not mention HIV/AIDS in response to readers' relationship concerns over unfaithful partners and sexual infidelity.
"The advice given is mostly emotional encouragement rather than letting the person know that they are at very high risk of getting HIV when they or their sexual partner has another partner," said Sue Goldstein, senior executive for South African programs at Soul City, the health promotion and social change project that commissioned the survey of advice columns in 11 print publications.
Magazines surveyed included Bona, Cosmopolitan, Drum, Fairlady, FHM, Move!, Real, and O: The Oprah Magazine. The Sunday Sun, Sunday World, and Star newspapers were also analyzed. In total, 215 letters and responses were included in the analysis.
Letter topics included issues such as infidelity, sexual dissatisfaction, promiscuity, and transactional sex. Five percent of the letter writers specifically mentioned HIV/AIDS; another 21 percent mentioned multiple concurrent sexual partnerships.
Columnists responded in some cases by recommending communicating with a cheating partner or forgiving infidelity. In one instance where a reader confessed to cheating with a man who was also in a relationship with someone else, the columnist advised that "you and the boyfriend are birds of a feather, so you should stick together."
"This can be viewed as encouraging multiple concurrent partnerships without discussing the risks," said the researchers.
"The findings suggest some huge gaps in advice in a country with the largest HIV epidemic in the world. These gaps relate to the perceived functions of media in society, particularly educating the public and facilitating social change," the report concluded.